Philosophy of Education

Consider any media representation of a teacher (film, tv, literature) and discuss critically how ‘the good’ of education is represented. reflect critically on how this agrees with or goes against your developing ideas of what it is to be an educator.

Within the film School of Rock, I have identified two concepts, compliancy and participation, which are encompassed in the democratic ideals that philosopher John Dewey asserts in his beliefs on education. These have informed my own ideas of what I would like to be as an educator and I further recognise the challenges associated with them.

Firstly, what is meant by democracy? John Dewey regarded democracy as a way of life that should be applied to every structure in society, including education, as it enables the flourishing and full development of individuals (Dewey, 2009). The film School of Rock exhibits the conflicting ideas of compliancy and individuality. It also highlights how education should enable the formation of a communal domain, involving participation from all involved. Both of these issues are ideas explored in Dewey’s philosophy on education. These are concepts which have resonated with my own developing teacher identity and what I believe to be important in education.

Quote from Dewey in ‘The Middle Works: 1899-1924’ Edited by Boydston which depicts the relationship between education and democracy.
(Credit: Siobhán McHugh via canva.com)

Compliancy is a contradiction to the freedom of expression that democracy exudes.

Dewey (Boydston, 1987, p.128) describes the opposite of democracy as ‘subordination of the many to few enforced from above’. Applying this to education, Shaull (cited in Freire, 1970) warns that conformity in education can inhibit active participation in society. Furthermore, Grobstein and Lesnick (2011) describe the lack of individuality in education as ‘preparation-driven’ and highlight that educators themselves conform and adhere to the values upheld by society. Dewey (1916) regards conformity as a form of social control and encourages the opposite, an approach supporting individuality within an open free space.

In Horace Green, there exists this ‘subordination’ that Dewey refers to. Dewey Finn is met by students who are compliant and unsure of his lack of conformity to the rules. There is clearly an element of obedience in the school, and a lack of individuality that Dewey, and myself, regard as detrimental to democracy in education.  

The compliant nature of the students is portrayed as a negative element, depriving the students of individuality and freedom of expression. This is contradictory to my own developing teaching philosophy.

This clip from School of Rock shows how unsure the students were at Dewey Finn’s inability to follow the rules and structure that the classroom already had in place.

In order for education to work as a democratic system and be part of the wider democratic society, communication and collaboration need to exist on all levels.

Noddings (2007, p. 36) informs us that Dewey’s beliefs, regarding education, should not only prepare students for life in a democratic society but actively involve students to communicate in order to ‘construct common values and knowledge’. According to Dewey, education should be a place of dialogue with mutual and differing perspectives (Noddings, 2007). Education should have the ability to enable a ‘total attitude’, where one can discover new perspectives (Hildebrand, 2008). Dewey encourages active learning and full engagement in education, encouraging students to have ownership over their learning (Dewey, 2009). The reason for this is to develop the students use of agency and encourage their full participation within a democratic school and eventually in a democratic society (Schutz, 2001).

Dewey Finn creates this in his classroom. Firstly, he achieves this level of discourse with his students. He actively works with the students to create and perform a song in Battle of the Bands. However, more importantly, he succeeds in creating this communal perspective with the parents by showcasing to them what the children have learned, but more importantly why the children should be more involved in the conversation of their own education. He has opened up a forum between the parents and students regarding the issue, that education should not just be fully ‘preparation-driven’ and ‘gold star’ orientated.

In this clip, we see how the parents engaging with the students’ performance allowed them to realise that their efforts, despite being non-conventional, can still show a lot of hard work and individuality.

This environment that Dewey Finn creates showcases how education, and perhaps, more importantly, the educator, can provide the basis for communication from all participants, and cultivate a place of active involvement to eventually give the students a voice, a sense of agency and a sense of being able to participate. This can then transcend into society, creating a more democratic and engaged community.  

These two aspects, which I’ve briefly discussed above are two elements which I have come to realise are what I value and hope to strive for as an educator. However, I am beginning to question my ideals of what is good in education, in tandem with what is capable in the education system.

I ask the question, where did Dewey Finn’s nonconforming class etiquette end up? Outside of school hours, outside of the curriculum, and outside of where I will be. I realise that the education system will always have this element of conformity, but it is one I am not too comfortable with. I am beginning to question how much space for individuality I have as an educator. Higgins (2011, p.256) describes how education can at times be rigid and ‘promote intellectual docility’, this is one I know all too well in the Irish education system. I never felt a sense of uniqueness in the primary setting, the act of obedience was firmly imposed through uniforms, rules and gold star rewards.

In this clip we see how Dewey Finn’s education of individuality ended up outside the traditional education system in an after school club.

I do not wish my own students to feel this sense of strict conformity. I have a guileless hope to empower my students with a sense of individuality and provide them with the ability to use their voice and agency within a fair and equal setting.

Of course, I can plan within the professional discretion laid out in the primary school curriculum (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, 1999). Dewey Finn exudes an idiosyncratic trait which resonates with me, and it is one that is not too welcome in education, from what I see in the movie. I’m questioning if I am ‘conventional’ enough to be an educator, will I fit in? How can I impede compliance within my students if I am so compliant myself?

I recognise that these are questions that I will struggle with as an educator and perhaps throughout my profession. Engineering a sense of belief in what I think education should be at the start of my career is beneficial to return to when those ideals may not be as apparent. I am now more informed and cognisant of what I now recognise as the essential features of being an educator:

To create a democratic setting to enable students to find in their own voice, express their individuality and participate in society beyond education itself.

I plan to accomplish this by engaging in discourse with students and parents in an effort to support individuality and active participation in education. Through this perhaps I can sustain a small sense of ‘stick it to the man’ philosophy that I am so drawn to.

(Word Count: 1092)

References

Boydston, J.A. (ed.) (1987) John Dewey the later works, 1925-1953. Volume 11: 1935 – 1937. Southern Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press.

Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and education: and introduction to philosophy of education. Reprint, Auckland: The Floating Press, 2009.

Grobstein, P. and Lesnick, A. (2011) ‘Education is life itself: biological evolution as a model for human learning’, Evolution Education and Outreach, 4(4),doi: 10.1007/s12052-011-0370-1 [Online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254570217_Education_Is_Life_Itself_Biological_Evolution_as_a_Model_for_Human_Learning  (Accessed: 05 November 2020).

Higgins, C. (2011) The good life of teaching an ethics of professional practice, Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hildebrand, D. (2008) ‘Education, imagination, communication and participatory growth’, in Hildebrand, D. Dewey: a beginner’s guide.

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) (1999) Primary school introduction. Dublin: The Stationary Office.

Noddings, N. (2007) ‘The philosophical and educational thought of John Dewey’, in Noddings, N. Philosophy of education. (2nd edn). Boulder: Westview Press, pp.23-43.

Schutz, A. (2001) ‘John Dewey’s conundrum: can democratic schools empower?’, Teachers College Record, 103(2), pp.267-302. [Online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287884830_John_Dewey’s_conundrum_Can_democratic_schools_empower (Accessed: 07 November 2020).

Shaull, R. (1968) ‘Publisher’s Foreword’, in Freire, P. Pedagogy of the oppressed. Reprint, London: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005.

The School of Rock (2003) Directed by Richard Linklater. Available at: Netflix (Accessed 15 October 2020).